State high court candidate Smith seeks transparency, accountability

By Kyla Asbury | Nov 2, 2018

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals candidate Dennise Renee Smith wants more transparency and accountability for the West Virginia Supreme Court if she is elected.

"We need more transparency and accountability in the budget process," Smith said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "No system of government works well in the dark."

Smith said she thinks the Supreme Court also needs to prioritize programs like adult and juvenile drug courts and programs that serve the citizens of West Virginia.

"I think we also need to go in and strengthen the recusal rules because that is another way we can further the public's trust and confidence in having a fair and impartial judiciary," Smith said. "I think we also need to go back and look at campaign rules that apply to judges and see if there is any way we can strengthen that. A lot of times, things done during campaigns can lead the public to think a candidate is biased in some way. We have some good rules in there now, but we could go back in and see if there is anything that could be strengthened."

She said her campaign is going well.

"I'm on the road every day going somewhere," Smith said. "It's been a great experience. Otherwise, I would've never seen some of these parts of our state. It's been really nice."

She says the majority of the public is invested in the outcome of this race.

"There's a lot more public interest in this position and there are restrictions on what you can say because the rules want you to maintain the appearance of being non-biased," Smith said. "You really can't act in a way that would lead the public to believe that you wouldn't be fair or impartial. A lot of people don't understand that these positions are run different. I get a lot of questions about my positions on things and as a judge, you're not supposed to have any preformed opinions on issues because you're supposed to make your decisions in cases based on the law."

Smith said it's challenging because people want to know these things.

"Once I explain the rules and that you're not a political entity and that you're there to give everyone a fair shot, they get it," she said.

Smith said she decided to run for the Supreme Court in Division 2, the seat of former Justice Robin Jean Davis that expires in 2024, because she loves the judiciary.

"I've always loved the judiciary and the work of the Supreme Court," she said. "I love appellate work and thinking about the law and writing about the law. And then when the reports came out about the overspending of the court, I noticed people losing their trust and confidence in the court. Then the legislature's impeachment efforts were constitutionally flawed, and people started to think this was a political effort."

Smith said Gov. Jim Justice's appointments to the vacant seats on the court appeared to be political because he did not give provide information as to why he had made his choices.

"This is not the appropriate position for politicians," Smith said. "I applaud their work as policymakers, but my message through this campaign is to keep politics off the court."

She said it's dangerous when people lose trust and faith in the court's work.

"When they think a decision is made based on politics, you doubt the validity of the result and lose faith in the process," Smith said.

Smith varied background includes work for both plaintiffs and defendants, administrative law judge work, assistant attorney general experience under former Attorney General Darrell McGraw and civil rights work.

"My background makes me stand out," Smith said. "I have a varied background. I've done work on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants. I've worked on both sides of issues. A lot of times attorney's pick one side throughout their career."

Smith said her natural inclination is to take in all the information.

"When you take in all that information, you can see the flaws and strength in arguments," Smith said. "You can get to the just and proper result when your mind is not closed off and focused on a certain position. I've got a very broad and diverse experience, which I think is what is needed on the court."

Smith practices law at Spilman Thomas & Battle. She graduated from West Virginia University College of Law in 1996.

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